Sun | Jan 26, 2020

Don Wehby | Partnership a necessity for growth

Published:Friday | March 17, 2017 | 12:00 AM
Don Wehby

The tourism sector has long been a key pillar of the Jamaican economy.

This sector, which generated over $32 billion towards the GDP for the first three quarters of 2016, continues to expand and achieve major success.

Tourism has always been one of the key sectors of focus targeted by Jampro in its bid to drive economic growth. In working with investors however, the general lament has been the bureaucracy and lengthy timelines around the development approvals processes.

To address this, in 2014, JAMPRO partnered with the Tourism Enhancement Fund (TEF); and National Environmental & Planning Agency (NEPA) to develop and execute the Shovel Ready Investment Programme (SRIP).

SRIP's objective is to identify both public and privately owned lands that are appropriate for tourism development, seek parameters for the type of development allowed, package and promote the properties to potential investors and fast track the development approvals process to speed-up the investment cycle.

This was a programme that Jampro championed, as we are mandated to bring more investments to the country and multiply Jamaica's offerings in tourism.

In this way, SRIP provided a useful avenue to support this mandate. The Agency has increased the promotion of tourism projects by developing specific marketing collateral for 16 of Jamaica's best tourism shovel-ready opportunities, which was marketed to local and international investors in direct presentations, at trade events and by linking Jampro's network of contacts.

We also attended high profile international tourism events to entice more investors to visit Jamaica, so they can see first-hand the possible return on their potential investments.

The response has been overwhelmingly positive to the Shovel Ready Investment Programme. In fact, eight projects from the group of 16 are now in negotiation with potential investors, and will hopefully soon join the first major SRIP investment made last year by Karisma Hotels and Resorts for the construction of 5,000 new hotel rooms in St Ann.

We have learnt something valuable from this experience. These results are not only positive due to the potential investments and jobs that will result, but are also important as they signal that international business confidence in Jamaica remains high. It also shows that the strategy used by the SRIP to shorten approval process time and to decrease red tape to investments must be a practice adopted in other sectors to bring more investments into the Jamaican economy. This strategy has played a key part in attracting investors to the projects.

Since assuming the role chairman of Jampro last year, I have said repeatedly that the removal of red-tape and making partnerships in government are both crucial to Jamaica meeting the '5-in-4' economic growth target set by the Economic Growth Council.

Programmes like SRIP are the future, showing how government entities can work together to bring economic development to Jamaica. Partnership, promotion and improving the ease of doing business are the ways forward for boosting macroeconomic growth, and providing economic empowerment for our people.

With the continued support of the Ministry of Tourism, TEF, NEPA and other partners, we anticipate that this programme will be extended to accommodate more projects, and bring even more investment dollars to our shores.

I am confident that SRIP's success shows what can be done to spur the growth we need to bring this country's economy to the next level. Let us work together to achieve economic growth.

- Don Wehby is chairman of Jampro and Group CEO of GraceKennedy Limited.